US Treasury Provides Missing Link: Manafort’s Partner Gave Campaign Polling Data to Kremlin in 2016

The U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday that Konstantin Kilimnik, an associate and ex-employee of Paul Manafort, “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” during the 2016 election, an apparently definitive statement that neither Special Counsel Robert Mueller nor the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation made in their final reports. 

“This is new public information that connects the provision of internal Trump campaign data to Russian intelligence,” Andrew Weissmann, who led the prosecution of Manafort for the Special Counsel, told Just Security on Thursday. 

The eye-catching statement was included in an announcement of new sanctions related to Russian interference in U.S. elections. The Biden administration took a number of steps Thursday to punish Russia, not only for election interference, but also the SolarWinds cyberattack, its ongoing occupation of Crimea, and human rights abuses. 

Kilimnik was one of 16 individuals the Treasury Department announced it was sanctioning for attempting to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election at the direction of the Kremlin. The Treasury Department is also imposing new sanctions on 16 entities, including several Russian disinformation outlets. 

Kilimnik is, according to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, a Russian Intelligence Services officer who became central to investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election thanks to his close ties to Manafort, who served as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in 2016. After being indicted in 2018 on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice related to his unregistered lobbying work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Kilimnik is now being targeted by Treasury for “having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election.” The FBI is offering a reward of $250,000 for information related to his potential arrest. He is currently residing in Russia. 

The Treasury Department’s statement about Kilimnik and his role in the 2016 election definitively connects dots that previous investigations did not. 

The Mueller investigation uncovered that Manafort had directed his associate Rick Gates to provide Kilimnik with polling data repeatedly throughout the summer of 2016, but it was unable to conclude what Kilimnik did with that information afterward. The 448-page Mueller Report, released in a redacted version on April 18, 2019, stated:

Because of questions about Manafort’s credibility and our limited ability to gather evidence on what happened to the polling data after it was sent to Kilimnik, the Office could not assess what Kilimnik (or others he may have given it to) did with it. The Office did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort’s sharing polling data and Russia’s interference in the election, which had already been reported by U.S. media outlets at the time of the August 2 meeting [between Manafort and Kilimnik]. 

The 966-page Senate Intelligence Committee report, for its part, stated that 

The Committee was unable to reliably determine why Manafort shared sensitive internal polling data or Campaign strategy with Kilimnik or with whom Kilimnik further shared that information. The Committee had limited insight into Kilimnik’s communications with Manafort and into Kilimnik’s communications with other individuals connected to Russian influence operations, all of whom used communications security practices. The Committee obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU’s hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election.

The Committee report also stated: 

While the Committee obtained evidence revealing that Kilimnik shared with [Oleg] Deripaska other information passed on by Manafort–such as links to news articles–the Committee did not obtain records showing that Kilimnik passed on the polling data. However, the Committee has no records of, and extremely limited insight into, Kilimnik’ s communications [redacted]. As a result, this lack of documentary record is not dispositive.

The Treasury Department’s new statement raises questions about why this information is coming out now and why the Special Counsel’s office did not have access to it during its investigation. Was it not available then or did it exist but was not provided to the Mueller team?

Kate Brannen contributed to this report. 

Image: Paul Manafort, Campaign Manager for Donald Trump, speaks on the phone while touring the floor of the Republican National Convention at the Quicken Loans Arena as final preparations continue July 17, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Justin Hendrix

Cofounder and CEO of Tech Policy Press and a researcher on disinformation and emerging media technology. Opinions expressed here are entirely his own. Follow him on Twitter (@justinhendrix).